Cork Oak

Cork forests – home to endangered species such as the Iberian lynx and Iberian imperial eagle – have been protected and valued due to the centuries old demand for cork in the wine industry. But the increasingly popular use of alternative stoppers threatens this environmentally and economically sustainable industry and leaves cork forests unprotected.
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Cork oak (Quercus suber) close-up; Alentejo, Portugal.
© Claire Doole / WWF-Canon

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Key Facts

  • Common Name

    Cork Oak

  • Scientific Name

    Quercus Suber

  • Geographic location

    Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa

  • Height

    Up to 20m


The perfect partnership

Cork oak forests are found in landscapes which cover nearly 2.7 million hectares of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, and France.

The harvesting of cork oak offers one of the finest examples of traditional, sustainable land use. However, this landscape faces many problems which threaten the future livelihoods of thousands of people and the very existence of numerous rare and endemic species.

For future generations

If the cork oak forests are preserved, future generations can rely on these trees for their livelihoods. The endangered species which rely on these forests for their habitat will also have their future assured.

These forests provide a vital source of income for thousands of people and they support one of the world’s highest levels of forest biodiversity, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx, the Iberian imperial eagle, the Barbary deer, many species of rare birds as well as many fungi, ferns and other plants.

More on the biodiversity of the cork oak landscape

Cork oak forests also play a key role in maintaining watersheds, preventing erosion and keeping soils healthy. They are a great example of balanced conservation and economic development. Their preservation is vital for the well-being of the Mediterranean region.

Harvesting of cork for use in wine stoppers is entirely sustainable.

The bark renews itself after harvesting and no trees are cut down. As local people rely on these trees to support their livelihoods, they also look after the forests.

What are the threats to cork oak?

Increased market share for alternative wine stoppers could reduce the value of cork oak areas, leading to their conversion or abandonment.

If the demand for cork is not maintained there’s a risk the cork oak landscapes of the western Mediterranean will, within a decade, face increased poverty, more forest fires, loss of biodiversity, and faster desertification.

More on the threats to cork

Priority species

Cork oak is a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.
Iberian imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti). / ©: Martien Brand
The Iberian imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti) is a bird known as a symbol of strength and power and also represents nature conservation and biodiversity in Portugal and Spain.
© Martien Brand

What is WWF doing?

WWF launched the Cork Oak Landscapes Programme to protect this vital resource. The 5-year programme involves promoting products from sustainably managed cork oak forests, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, local income-generating activities, restoration, advocating for change in European Union and national policy, and capacity building.

GFTN (Global Forest & Trade Network) Iberia is WWF's initiative to eliminate illegal logging and transform the global marketplace into a force for saving the world's valuable and threatened forests, such as the cork oak forests. By facilitating trade links betweencork product companies committed to achieving and supporting responsible forestry, the GFTN Iberia creates market conditions that help conserve the cork oak forests while providing economic and social benefits for the businesses and people that depend on them.

WWF projects that support this work include:

  • Preserving Mediterranean’s cork
  • A Wine and Cork Initiative: Ensuring a Sustainable Future for Cork Oak Landscapes
  • Promoting Sustainable Natural Resource Use in Biodiversity Hotspots in North Africa
Read more about our solutions to protect the cork oak landscape
 / ©: WWF Mediterranean / Rui CUNHA
Luis N. Silva, WWF MedPO Cork Oak Landscapes Coordinator in Portugal
© WWF Mediterranean / Rui CUNHA
 / ©: WWF-Mediterranean / Rui CUNHA
WWF staff meet with cork land owners in Portugal.
© WWF-Mediterranean / Rui CUNHA

How you can help

Graphic of a cork stopper as the stem of a tree. / ©: WWF
As you pop open champagne and wine bottles to celebrate the holidays, WWF asks you to toast cork - a toast to the rich history, health, wealth, diversity and future of the Mediterranean.
© WWF

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Did you know?

    • The first bark can be harvested from a tree aged around 25 years, further harvests can occur every 10 years.
    • Portugal is the world’s biggest cork producer, and cork is its most important forest product.
    • Cork oak trees live about 150 to 250 years.
    • Each tree can produce enough material for 4,000 wine corks.
    • Human use of cork dates back to the Ancient Greeks, who used cork stoppers in olive and wine jars.

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